December 19, 2008

Swiftboat, Part III

First falsehood: To begin with, your group chose to characterize the enemy fighter Kerry chased down and killed as “a young Viet Cong in a loincloth” (Unfit for Command, p. 82), a description obviously employed to conjure up images of a person too young or primitive to truly endanger Kerry, us, or our boats. This description is completely false. At least four of us—Medeiros; Reese; Sandusky; and Short – (not to mention Tom Belodeau and John Kerry) got good looks at this man with our own eyes. He was holding a loaded B-40 rocket launcher. He – or one of the other ambushers- had just fired on the 94 boat blowing out all the port side windows and as an armed enemy combatant he was capable of killing us all.

We observed him to be a man of normal military age, some of us judging him to be in his late teens, others in his twenties. Additionally, we can assure you this man Kerry killed was absolutely not in a “loincloth” but rather was wearing the pajama type pants normally found on VC fighters. (Just for good measure, we note that PCF-23 skipper Bill Rood and his leading petty officer, Jerry Leads, also concur on this point of the VC fighter’s dress and maturity.)

As it turns out, this VC fighter was 26 or 27, according to a Vietnamese eyewitness who knew him and was located in 2004 by the ABC News program “Nightline.” Yet despite all this evidence, your group chose to perpetuate this myth of a “kid” in loin cloth in interviews and advertising, even after your group had been put on public notice on multiple occasions by eyewitnesses that your belittling description—originally lifted from an erroneous sentence in a 2003 newspaper account—was entirely false and incorrect.

While we hope you would not question the truthfulness of four of us, or of Mr. Rood and Mr. Leeds, the fact is photographic evidence also exists and confirms our collective memory. Once the area had been secured and all action was over but prior to departing, the small 8mm camera carried aboard PCF-94 recorded scenes including a look down the trail on which the VC in question had fled and been shot. In this footage, the dead VC is plainly visible wearing black pants, lying on his back with his feet upright. His body lays head toward the hooch, with a wound on the side. Lieutenant Charles Gibson who was assigned to LTJG Kerry’s PCF-94 for indoctrination specifically remembers seeing the exit wound on the side of the VC as well as judging him to be a mature adult guerilla fighter in his late teens or early twenties. Mr. Gibson will confirm this today.

Second falsehood: Your group claims one of our PCF-94 crewmen, Tom Belodeau, “shot the Viet Cong with an M-60 machine gun as he fled” (Unfit, p. 83), insinuating that the fleeing VC was already significantly incapacitated when Kerry killed him. In fact, Belodeau has stated publicly, on the record to the Associated Press, that even after he fired at the VC: "This man was not lying on the ground. This man was more than capable of destroying that boat and everybody on it.” [Associated Press, 10/27/96]

While Belodeau sadly passed away some years ago and can’t reiterate this point himself, one of us (Short, GM2) had a clear view and vividly recalls Belodeau’s fire striking the VC: the rounds nicked the fleeing VC in the leg but he recovered after an instant and kept on going, just as Tom Belodeau said in 1996. Two others on the boat (Medeiros, QM2 and Sandusky, QM1) did not see Belodeau’s fire strike the VC—they were otherwise occupied—but did see the VC continue to run away from Kerry and our position at a high rate of speed. We note that Mr. Rood and Mr. Leeds are also on the record disputing your group’s insinuation that the VC was significantly wounded prior to being killed by Kerry.

Third falsehood: Your group contends Kerry acted to conceal Belodeau’s role in this event, saying Kerry sought to conceal this circumstance, saying “there is no indication that Kerry ever reported that the Viet Cong was wounded and fleeing when dispatched.” (Unfit, p. 83). Dead wrong. Another lie. This is preposterous and underscores the extremes SBVT resorted to in order to make up anything they wanted to smear Senator Kerry. We say this because the original after action report, filed within hours of the event and maintained in the US Navy archives, reported precisely the following: “forward M-60 gunner wounded man in leg,” destroying your thesis Kerry or anyone else denied credit to Belodeau, and proving the Navy was not misinformed on this point when evaluating Kerry’s actions for possible recognition. If your group cared about the truth they could have easily checked this document on file in the Navy archives, and also available on However, they didn’t want to find nor did they care about the truth.

Fourth falsehood: Your group introduces a completely made up claim that the rocket launcher carried by the Viet Cong soldier “may or may not have been loaded” (Unfit, p. 82), intentionally creating innuendo around something that has never, ever been in question. Multiple eyewitnesses confirm the launcher to have been loaded, the after action report states it, and photographic images show the loaded rocket launcher. No one who was there recalls it as anything but loaded or ever reported otherwise. The tactic of SBVT to make up anything for their purposes is conduct unbecoming of members of the Navy family and fellow veterans.

Other than John Kerry, three people were best positioned to see whether the VC’s rocket launcher was loaded when we beached the boat: the man who joined Kerry in chasing the VC (Medeiros); the man in the gun tub (Short); and the man on the forward gun (Belodeau). Two of those three are signatories to this letter (Belodeau has passed away) and can assure you the rocket launcher was indeed loaded. In fact, one of us, Fred Short, had the best seat in the house to the four engagements we had that day. Fred has said: “On the second engagement when we charged the bank, I locked eyes with an enemy combatant who stood up from his fighting hole.

This was not a ‘teenager in a loincloth’ as John O’Neill claimed in 2004, [ABC News, “Nightline,” 10/14/04] but a fully grown man with a B40 rocket-propelled grenade that was designed to take out armor. I was so close I could see his wispy moustache.”

The fourth eyewitness, the late Tommy Belodeau, also weighed in on this point, having said in 1996: "The soldier that Senator John Kerry shot was standing on both feet with a loaded rocket launcher, about to fire it on the boat from which (Kerry) had just left, which still had four men aboard" [Associated Pres, 10/27/96] Bill Rood has written publicly that he, too, observed the rocket launcher to have been loaded, and a photograph taken after the action shows Mr. Rood standing next to Kerry, who is seen holding this loaded weapon. In the after action, many others saw this loaded rocket launcher which was ultimately disarmed by a Navy Seal.